Friday, August 29, 2008

The War Of Art, or Turn That Poor Angel Loose

by Mary Saums

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a book I'd never heard of, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Though it's mainly written for writers, the core of its message applies to anyone who has ever wanted to do something but never quite got around to actually doing it. Ever wanted to lose weight? Bought the Slimfast, a few health magazines, maybe even some exercise DVDs and a huge plastic ball that takes up half the basement? I have. That ball sure does the trick. Not. Well, maybe it would if I ever figured out how to ride it or jump on it or whatever I'm supposed to do.

The real problem with the ball, and with stalled writing projects or other creative plans, isn't in the ball itself but in my inability to put my plan into action. In The War of Art, Pressfield talks about our inner struggles in which we are both highly motivated and highly resistant to creating something new. He does an excellent job of presenting his ideas on how resistance shows up in our lives and our writing and does so in simple terms.

Sure, a lot of how-to writing books deal with this issue. Two things set this one apart for me. First, it delivers on the promise of its subtitle: "Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles." This book won't gather dust on the shelves. I've found myself referring to it many times already.

The second is pretty amazing. Not everybody can handle this. Brace yourselves. Okay, ready? The author believes in angels. Call it the Muse or Divine Inspiration or The Strange Workings of the Invisible Universe if you wish. Pressman doesn't strike me as being nuts. He makes a very good case near the end of the book that rings true to me.

Help comes to us at the moment we take the first step. This is his concept of angels and our creativity in a nutshell. He believes they are there for us, wanting to help, but unable to until we move first. Here's a quote in the book from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W.H. Murray that illustrates his point:

"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way...."

Does that sound familiar? It does to me. We hear about this sort of thing happening all the time. Pressman adds that it is facing what we fear that opens the door for this phenomenon. A baby step in the direction of doing what is right, or toward writing a book that will in turn inspire others, is all it takes to unleash our angelic helpers.

So please, take the dog collar off of that poor angel who wants to help you. If Pressman is right, our resistance is like shutting a friendly Golden Retriever in a room while you stand outside, feeling afraid because you're alone. Maybe you're not alone. I'm going to open the door, just in case there's a big fuzzy slobber-kissing friend out there who wants to tag along.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Looking for God in All the Strange Places

By Nicole Seitz,

Do you remember the first time you learned about God as a child? I do.

I was fairly clueless. I remember learning that God knew my name, that he could make a miracle of me. Most of what I learned was in church choir. The first day my mother sent me to choir I got back in the car afterwards and she asked me, "How did you like it?"

"It was good," I said. "But all we did was sing."

As I mentioned, truths about God exhausted my tiny brain. My favorite and most challenging concept of God was that he is everywhere--he can be in all places at all times, and as I remember correctly, he could be in the plants and trees and a rock if he wanted to. This, my friends, captivated me. And, it still does.

In fact, every book I've written and probably will write deals with this concept that God can be seen in all facets of life--unexpected facets of life. There is a country song on the radio called "I saw God Today." I love this song. It's about seeing God in people, in circumstances, when we're least expecting it--how we should not be so worried about such-and-such but instead, if we stop to see the flowers pushing up from the concrete sidewalk, we would see that God is in every detail. So relax.

I love this aspect of God--the unexpected God, the aha! God. God is not boring to me, just the opposite. He's exciting. Following Him is exciting. Now, I'm not sure that being a writer and talking about God is the most popular thing. Perhaps not. It might not ever get me or my books on a bestseller list. Or, it might. Either way is okay with me. I like to write about magic in everyday life. God is my magic.

These days, my kids are in school, so I have a couple hours to get some work and writing done in the mornings. This is wonderful. Truly. Lately, the writing is coming easier which doesn't happen often, so I'm psyched (sorry for my eighties lingo but sometimes I'm stuck there.) Here's the thing, sometimes when I think God is turning on my faucet of word flow, he might throw something at me to distract a little, say, a tiny baby squirrel.

Yesterday morning, I looked out the window to see my cat standing hungrily over a tiny baby squirrel. I approached carefully as it appeared to be a very large rat. Just as soon as my cat had his dripping jaws on said squirrel, I shooed him away and saw the little thing. Poor baby. He was laid out flat on his belly, arms and legs straight out. Must have fallen from a tree onto the drive. Ouch. He wasn't moving much. I scooped him up and called around to find a vet that takes in wild animals. Miraculously, the little guy is perfectly fine, lying on a heating pad, drinking out of a dropper. Oh, and he didn't get eaten. I'd say he was one lucky squirrel to land in my drive. I'm a sucker for creatures. But I'll get back to the squirrel in a minute.

Believe it or not, this is going somewhere. I finally got some writing done yesterday. Groundbreaking writing. My son came home from school and we went to the grocery store where I got the urge to make eggplant Parmesan. Haven't made it in a gazillion years. My son and I picked out two long skinnies and one big fat one.

Later he wanted to go to the Children's Museum. They have this little play grocery store there where the kids can load their carts with plastic goodies and go through a pretend checkout. My son bought eggplants. Then, we went out back to the garden. There is nothing actually growing in the garden right now except, you guessed it, a single eggplant. I was starting to see a pattern and I took notice.

After the museum, we came back home and I started cooking dinner. I cut up the big fat eggplant and was lightly frying some of the pieces when I picked one up and was amazed to see the word--and I kid you not--"GOD" written in the eggplant. By now you are thinking I should adjust my medication, but I assure you. It was there. I showed it to my husband. His imagination doesn't stretch as far as mine does usually but he agreed. GOD was in my eggplant. We took a picture of it. Here it is. Perhaps you see something different in it, but for me, I see GOD in it. And it makes life so much fun when you see God in everything. It makes you feel you're never alone. It makes for unusual, interesting books. It makes loved ones want to put you in counseling. That too, can be a little bit fun at times.
All this to say that God is not usually quite so literal as to spell his name for me. But having the word fresh in my mind came in handy last night when my daughter and I were reading her little girl's Bible, and there was a story about Jared and how he lived over 900 years (whew!) and then he died. My daughter started crying about that last part. The dying part. She said she didn't want to die. I have tried to explain heaven (written a novel about it), but this too, is a very difficult thing to wrap one's head around when you're my age or tinier.

I had nothing. I asked God to please give me some words of comfort for this child without having to tell a flat out lie. He reminded me of the baby squirrel that morning. I told my daughter, "If God could have that little squirrel fall out of a tree onto our driveway and not get hurt, and if the cat could have him in his jaws and he not get eaten, and if he landed in my yard where God knew I would take him to the vet, can you imagine how much God loves that little squirrel? Can you imagine? And if he loves that little squirrel THAT much, can you IMAGINE how much he loves you and will take care of you?"

Magically, this seemed to stop the tears. Because better than knowing that God is everywhere, even in your eggplant, is the fact that God loves each one of us as his own. That he will take great care of us. And this is something that even a child can wrap her head around. Even me.

Nicole Seitz lives in the Charleston, SC area with her husband, two children, cat and dog. Occasionally a snail, turtle, fish, worm, or squirrel comes to stay a while. Seitz is the author of THE SPIRIT OF SWEETGRASS, a novel about heaven and family, and TROUBLE THE WATER, a novel about healing. Her next novel, A HUNDRED YEARS OF HAPPINESS, will be released in March 2009 from Thomas Nelson. Today, she is busy working on her fourth novel and looking for God in unusual places.

You can visit her at or email at She'd love to hear the strangest place you've ever seen God.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Mother and Faulkner's Mother -- BFF

I've always said that my mother would brag about me if I were in prison. She'd make bumper stickers that read: My daughter's rap sheet is longer than your daughter's rap sheet!

When my first novel came out (GIRL TALK, under Julianna Baggott), my mother kept telling everyone she met that the mother character in the novel was based on her.

I told her that she might not want to do that. "People will be confused. They'll wonder if Dad really served in Nam and is a gynecologist in addition to practicing law. They'll think he had an affair with a redheaded bank-teller." None of these things worried her. Finally I said, "They'll think you're from Bayonne, New Jersey."

She changed her tune and started saying, "Julianna based the mother character's spirtedness on my spiritedness." That kind of thing.

Then, of course, some of her friends had negative things to say. It's inevitable. This threw my mother into fits. Until one day she was cleaning out a closet and found an old National Geographic with a lead story on William Faulkner. It turns out that, when attacked by locals who were angry about a certain kind of negative portrayal, Faulkner's mother would respond, "My son writes what he has to write." My mother adapted and adopted this line in reference to me, and formed a deep kinship with Faulkner's mother -- basically, relating to her as one creator-of-a-genius does to a fellow creator-of-a-genius. (I can't state quite loudly enough that these are MY MOTHER'S IMPRESSIONS. NOT MINE. I bow way down at the mere mention of Faulkner.)

But the creme de la creme moment, came this past week. My mother was walking around her vacation-home trailer park in the Berkshires, with postcards made out for some of her friends, a mini press release all about my new book, MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS (under my pen name Bridget Asher).

She ran into a family she didn't know, started talking about kids and camping and politics, and after fifteen minutes of idle chatter, the woman introduced herself.

"I'm Susan Faulkner, as in Faulkner, the writer."

My mother smiled, put her hand over her heart and said, "I'm Glenda Baggott, as in Baggott, the writer."

This comeback was so quick, so instinctive, that one can only assume it comes from a deep place inside of my mother. And it surely does.

She, of course, handed the woman a postcard about my latest book, and then, too much to do to linger for long, she moved swiftly on ... postcards in hand.

Julianna Baggott's latest novel, MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS, just came out under the pen name Bridget Asher. Asher blogs at Come visit!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

QUESTIONS Anyone . . . Please!

Weve all been here. In this place.

At the end of most writer’s readings, there is a moment of reverence where a pause hangs in the air and complete silence is heard. It’s right when the moderator opens the floor for questions. It’s right before the author looks around and wants to slide into a book and disappear because there are many eyeballs on the author but NO ONE is raising a hand or asking a question.

As a book festival promoter, moderator, and writer I have stood in the back of the room and watched the silence fall like an old testament plague and land on the shoulders of the audience over hundreds of times and for hundreds of authors. Known and unknown. And some REALLY FAMOUS FOLKS. And some people who were downright delightful and funny and heartwarming and still NO ONE ASKS A QUESTION. And so this writer who has poured out their heart, read till their throat bled, and given their best presentation ever, suddenly has an event that falls flat because there is a pregnant pause, and then a nervous moderator saying, “Well, okay then - if there are no questions, thank you for coming.” And suddenly everyone feels like the kid on Christmas Story that couldn’t think on Santa’s lap to ask for the thing he desired most but it’s TOO LATE because the question box is closed, it's over and the dazed, tired, and deflated writer is heading to the book table hoping people will be more eager to buy books than they were to ask questions.

And because of witnessing this scene over and over, I have learned to stand with questions at the ready to sail forth. I can ask writer questions at the drop of a hat and all day long. Maybe part of that is because I don’t just ask the writer questions. 1) how long did it take you to write your book (all my life) 2) how did you find your agent (through a fortune teller at a strange circus on Route 66 on hot summer night when my car broke down ) When can a person quit their day job (you can’t quit your day job when writing becomes your day job - or you buy a VW van to live in it down by the river - which appeases my gypsy soul just fine)
My questions tend to be 1) What did you parents discover you were a writer? Are they over it yet? 2) How long have you known you were different? 3) If you could only write one book, and it was the only book you would have to read for the rest of your life on a desert Island - what would it be? 4) Are you currently on medication?

And I have dutifully carried out this ministry of being Question Girl across the nation. Let me be at a festival with a friend presenting and BY GOD I’ll be there just for that back of the room moment. Even if I have to ask, Prefer Broccoli or Cauliflower? Do you read Joyce or Twain before retiring in the evening? What’d you have for lunch? Wear Pajamas?

But as much as I take asking these questions seriously, and I do and ask them fervently on BACKSTORY on the Radio every Saturday from 4-6 (shameless plug), it occurs to me that the fact of the matter is = I cannot cover every festival, every friend, and every opportunity to be Question Girl - and after just having watched two years of SMALLVILLE on DVD in two nights, I realize ultimately all super hero's don’t work alone in their best save the world moments. I thought maybe we could band together as writers and readers like the Justice League and come up with a plethora of creative questions for writers and share them. Then we’ll type the list and spread it around. Seriously, we’ll make copies of the questions and carry them with us and rip them into tiny assigned portions to divide up with the audience when we arrive.Not kidding. It makes it so much easier for us, and for the readers. Imagine! When the moderator asks if anyone has any questions, a bevy, a bushel, a literal harvest I tell you of hungry hands will rise quickly to the rescue with some enthusiastic people saying things like, "Me, me - I had my hand up first."

Okay, okay - I know. It’s question planting and in a political year maybe that’s frowned upon just a little teeny, weeny bit. But hey, we are writers and carry the banner for the creation of creative human interaction as one of our obligations.

So I say we do it. We ban together and share the questions. The best ones that we’ve ever been asked. The ones we wished we had been asked. The ones that took our breath away.
Just close your eyes and imagine . . . no more pregnant pauses. No awkward moments. Just brilliant, lighting-quick, authentic author finishes with a flourish. Well, almost.

RIVER JORDAN is a storyteller of the southern variety and has been cast most frequently in the company of Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee.
Ms. Jordan is the author of two highly praised novels of southern mystical fiction, The Gin Girl and The Messenger of Magnolia Street. She teaches and speaks on ‘The Passion of Story’, is a monthly contributor to this wonderful southern collective blog, and produces and hosts the radio program BACKSTORY, on WRFN, 98.9 FM, Nashville Saturday’s 4:00-6:00 CST. She has recently completed a new work of fiction, Souls in Limbo which will be published by Random House/Waterbrook in Spring 2009. Jordan and her husband make their home in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at or email your best questions from the road to

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Professor is In

First published in Mystery Readers Journal
By Sarah R. Shaber

My sleuth, young history professor Simon Shaw, fell into his detective avocation quite by accident. During a dig at a historic house on the Southern college campus where Simon teaches, archaeologists uncover the skeleton of a young woman with a bullet hole in the back of her skull. Unsure how to investigate a murder that appears to be at least fifty years old, the police ask Simon for help. He needs distraction from a personal problem—a woman, of course, it always is with Simon—so he agrees. By digging into old newspapers and police files, and interviewing elderly people who were alive when the victim disappeared, Simon deduces the young woman's identity. Then he becomes obsessed with finding her murderer. Since the past is never really over, there are people living today who've benefited from the victim's death, who want Simon to fail in his search for her killer, and who want him to fail badly enough to try to murder Simon himself.
After solving his first case Professor Simon Shaw becomes famous as a "forensic historian." He travels all over to consult on cold cases, using a perceptive historian's tool box of research skills and intuitive understanding of the past. And always he finds that the present is so influenced by the past that his investigations have repercussions, some of them dangerous, on the very people who have asked him for help.
Some time after beginning this series I discovered Robin Wink's erudite book The Historian As Detective: Essays on Evidence. Many of you may remember Winks, the late Yale history professor and connoisseur of mysteries who wrote countless book reviews for the Boston Globe. Winks' book is heavy going, but for those of us who love history and mystery he explains why historians make such good detectives. Historians, like police and private detectives, assess evidence of all kinds. They collect clues, evaluate documents, interpret scientific data, and interview witnesses, then assemble the bits into a whole that explains what happened, whether yesterday or many years ago.
Since the only possible reason for an amateur getting involved in a murder case is that the amateur must have skills or knowledge the authorities don't, and since a college campus is chock full of curious people investigating everything from commas in Shakespeare to string theory, the college campus is a great source of amateur sleuths. I chose history as my sleuth's academic subject because I love history myself, and I'm delighted to have an excuse to prowl around the South in the nineteen-twenties or the North Carolina coast during World War II. And I enjoy making history interesting. It's possible today for a high school graduate to get a diploma after taking only one real history course, U. S. History. Don't get me started on the way American history is taught in our school system. It's been so whitewashed, politically corrected, and scrubbed of controversy it's a wonder anyone can get through a standard U. S. History textbook chapter without falling asleep. I get dozens of letters and emails from fans who tell me they never knew learning a little about the past could be so much fun.
Most of the action in my books takes place off campus, but Simon Shaw is an academic in the best sense of the world, a professional who's had the rigorous training needed to solve complex problems and the persistence to keep searching for truth.
There's a character in each of the Simon Shaw books that asks why anyone should care about a murder that happened years ago, so long ago that even the murderer must be dead. Well, Simon does care, because he believes justice is timeless. I want my readers come away from my books caring, too.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ever Seen An Author Apologize To Their Book? by Kristy Kiernan

An open letter to my second novel, Matters of Faith, in which I attempt to right the grievous wrong I've committed in neglecting to trumpet its publication far and wide online.

Dearest Matters of Faith,

I am so thrilled that you're out in the world! No, really, I am. I know that it seems as though I've neglected this momentous occasion in the online world that I know you so deeply love, but, look, I've been biiiiiizzzy, what with the whirlwind of launch parties, fielding offers from Spielberg and Affleck, and juggling my Oprah and Richard and Judy interviews!

Well, maybe I've been more busy with trying to get my next book finished (NOT accomplished, please hold your jealousy in check), taming my e-mail in-box (also NOT accomplished), and attempting to get some of those above things happening. But a late announcement is still an announcement, right? Do you deserve to get punished for my startling lack of organizational skills? Surely not!

So, congratulations, Matters of Faith! Some lovely things have been said about you, including:

"Kristy Kiernan's Matters of Faith was so good and true and real that I forgot I was reading a book. I felt as though I was standing helplessly beside good people whose ordinary family life is slowly, inexorably tumbling into the darkness of the unknown."--Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

"In this tense, well-paced novel about belief, Kiernan explores what happens when faith and love test the limits of family fealty... [Kiernan] movingly portrays a 20-year-old marriage gone flat and torn apart by crisis, a troubled son, a daughter hovering between life and death, and the hard-to-discern boundaries between true faith and unhealthy fanaticism. She handles her difficult material respectfully. Most interesting is her portrayal of the well-meaning traps parents fall into when encouraging open-ended exploration of faith without context, or choosing to remain silent. The thoughtful themes, interesting characters and page-turning drama of this novel will likely make it a book club favorite."—Publishers Weekly

Just another day at the Florida beach this is not…It is, however, a great read, structured into the first-person story of Chloe, as she navigates through this family disaster, and the third-person story of Marshall, as he instigates and then attempts to right it.[ ]Kiernan doesn’t flinch at the end; there is no fairy tale happily-ever-after…Yet we are left with hope as the members of the Tobias family come out of a tragic situation with the compassion and desire to work their way back to each other. Which, in the end, is what families, and faith, are about.-- Bookreporter

Kiernan's stunning second novel explores how one family reacts to a devastating tragedy… Unforgettable and moving, Kiernan's novel is an achingly real portrait of a family in crisis, one readers will react to passionately. --Booklist

Matters of Faith begins as a recognizable family story and transforms into a view of human nature under pressure. How open will minds be when lives are interrupted? Will we believe the same things when loss tests our faith? How do we choose between the two things most precious to us? Kiernan's portrait of the Tobias family is a study in emotional turmoil that will stay with any reader when their beliefs are, inevitably, called into question. -BookPage

That's not all Matters of Faith! Let's peek behind Curtain Number 3, shall we? That's right, you've also been chosen as an IndieBound Notable Title for the month of September! Now, considering how much we both admire independent bookstores you must feel pretty good about that! Come on, come on, ooooh, I see a little crack there in your irritation!

You've also proven to be a possible doer of good deeds, helping to inform those whose lives untouched by the difficulty of food allergies of the daily struggle families who are dealing with it have to face. You've even been blogged about at Booking Mama, A Year of Books, and Redlady's Reading Room. You've been blogged about elsewhere, but these are particularly special because these women who usually blog about books also happen to be mothers to children who have severe food allergies. So, I hope you appreciate that, Matters of Faith!

The fun's not over yet, either, my second child, you'll also be traveling around with me, just so I can talk about you, extolling your virtues, showcasing your beautiful cover, and just generally making sure that my life revolves around you and only you for, heck, I don't know, the next year or so?! Want to know where you're going? Go check out my website (don't go there often, do you? No, but you don't hear me complaining that you don't support me! I'm just saying…) and look in the appearances section. If you don't go to my website, I'm sure you don't bother with my blog, either, so to make you feel even more loved, check it out and see all the nice things I do for you!

And, in addition to being available in indie bookstores across these United States, you are also available at all the usual online suspects, like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. And people have even gone on those sites and said nice things about you! I'm not positive we even know all of them!

So, Matters of Faith, know that during your writing, editing, and publication, that you were loved by me. You've taught me much and brought me great joy, and I am grateful to you. I apologize profusely for my seemingly light treatment of your big day, and I promise to do better in the future.

Kristy Kiernan is often behind in most things in her life, causing her to have become a real pro in apologizing. She lives, works, and plays in southwest Florida. She also can't figure out how to resize this photo, and she apologizes profusely for that, too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Pulpwood Queen Has a NEW Mission!

Writing my first book was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. First, because it was my story of my life in books, that made it highly personal, and second, because I had to do it while working full time and being a wife and mother.
What to tell, what not to tell. I battled for six years, internally, always with the thought in mind that everything I said would have consequences. This was to be my new baby. And when my baby was born I knew that my life would never be the same as it had when I had my first two children. What I went through pushed me to the limits on what I thought I could bear, but the pain and suffering I went through the birth process of my book made me forget everything when I received my first printed copy. What joy! My story was to be told and to me it was beautiful.
When the book was published I turned my book over to God. God is love and he would guide me through my publishing angst days ahead. What I did not know is that God had a bigger plan for me than declaring my life not only a reading life, but a writing life. One that has left me with this feeling of wonder and anticipation, much as the delight of sitting down with a new book that I have waited with bated breath to read. Oh, the joy of opening a new book to the first page. Yes, besides reading and writing AND promoting literacy, a new page has opened for me in life and one that involves a new mission. They call it Newgate.
Books have taken me many wondrous places. But one book in particular took me to a fundraiser for Newgate Mission, a mission whose sole purpose is to help people get back on their feet with a Christian foundation. Someone gave me the book “Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore when I was on book tour. “You have to read this book, Kathy!” How many times had I heard this before but I always listen as the best books I have ever read have been presented to me by that word of mouth.
I missed church over this book. I began to read it after work on Saturday and woke Sunday early to finish the book. It was soon time for church but I was lost in the story. So lost, tears streamed down my face as I finished the last page. I had to write the author immediately and I did, via email. Ron Hall called me personally right back and we began a conversation.
I felt really bad missing church. I explained to my minister, Allison and gave her the book to read. She grabbed my arm after reading the book and told me she would have missed church too. The book is just that good. What I did not know would happen would be that soon I would travel with my daughters in tow to Longview, Texas to hear Ron Hall and Denver Moore speak about their book as a fundraiser for Newgate Mission. I believe over 2,000 people flooded into the doors of T.J. Field to hear the authors speak. It was standing room only and at the last minute the organizers added a front row and led us standing in the back to sit right in front of the podium. I met there some of my other Pulpwood Queen Book Club members who had brought their families.
To read a book is one thing, but to have an author or authors speak of their book is another. This brings their story entirely into focus. I have never been so moved. You just have to read the book. Afterwards, I spoke to Ron and Denver and leaving I noticed volunteers standing to each side behind tables of displayed information brochures on Newgate. I have to admit I had never heard of the mission before that evening. I paused as a young woman asked me if I would be interested in volunteering to help at the mission. Funny, I stopped and asked what kind of help did they need? That conversation has now led me to leading a life writing class at Newgate Mission. I go once a month to the mission and I can tell you my life will never, ever be the same.
Yesterday was just the third time I have gone to Newgate. As I write, I sit in disbelief at what happened at yesterday’s visit. I had both my daughters, age 14 and 18 in tow. I firmly believe that you want to teach your children what is important in life, you show them. Actions do speak louder than words. We arrived to find a wooden cross propped against the outside door that was covered with hand written messages and stuffed animals. We entered and anxiously could not wait to introduce the girls to the incredible men and women who come to the mission for my class. My youngest had come with me the last time and she had begged me to bring her again. She too had experienced the same joy I had from getting to know these people. That time 19 men and one woman had showed up for the class. We even took photos at the end that were posted last month on my blogsite, This time only five were in attendance but the stories began to unfold. A man after the class stopped me to show what he had written. He had begun his life story and then he told me why he had to tell his story. What he told me will be the story that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I can still see his eyes; the pain, the want and the need to have someone hear his story. He told me that from the first time he heard me speak, he knew that I was someone he could trust. I have never been given such a better gift.
What I did not understand as I volunteered to come to the mission once a month to lead this class would be what I would receive. I thought of this venture as one where I would be giving the giving. As the girls and I left I was filled with such a sense of what a gift this class was going to be for my life that I was blind sighted by what I learned next. Remember, the cross by the door as we entered the mission? I asked the minister in charge, Kent, what the cross was all about as we exited the building. He told me that a woman had been shot and murdered there the night before. She had been sleeping on a bench by the back door. Can you imagine? My daughters and I stared in shock. Who knew such a world existed. We know now.
As I write this column my oldest daughter, called out to me that Newgate Mission was on the news about the murder. Our eyes have been opened wide. I always knew that reading could take me places I never dreamed but to learn that reading could also lead me to a higher purpose? Yes, it can, it can indeed. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone would read voraciously. What roads reading may take us, what journeys, what joys! May reading lead all of you to a higher purpose too. I assure you my life has been blessed from being a reader. Now let my actions speak louder than those words.
Tiara wearing and Book sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs and author of "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life"

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Ever since my editor knew that my dad was a Navy Chief, she wanted me to explore writing about my military childhood. I avoided it because I was afraid any story I wrote with that background would teeter too close to the autobiographical edge. The closest I came to revealing that lifestyle was in my young adult novel, Keeper of the Night, that takes place on Guam. But even then, I chose the Chamorro girl as the main character. Still, my editor had planted a seed and occasional I head the sounds of sprouting in the back of my head. Whispers. Navy Brat, Navy Brat.

Then one day, the voice became louder. "I've lived everywhere," it said. As a child, I had lived everywhere, but the voice did not belong to me. It sounded light and fun and carefree. I am the oldest daughter of three girls. I was the serious one. This voice sounded as if it belonged to my sister, the middle child. While I dreaded our moves from base to base, my sister embraced the life. She never met a stranger. Each destination was an adventure. I decided that would be a more interesting point of view for a young reader. That's how Piper Reed Navy Brat was born.

Piper Reed is the middle child of three girls. Her dad is a Navy Chief. And since I was born on NAS Pensacola, I decided to make that the setting. It had been years since I'd lived there so that meant returning to the area to research. I visited a nearby elementary school and met with groups of military children who told me what it was like to have a parent serving in the Navy today. One huge difference from my experience was that some of them had mothers away on ship duty.

Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels, and I wanted them to be a part of the story. While there, I watched a Blue Angel practice and met them. This was a rock star moment for me. It seemed like anywhere we lived, the Blue Angels would be on tour and we'd go to their flight shows. They were a major part of my childhood. I suspect they were a major part of most military kids' childhoods. While kids who stay in one place might have long-term connections to classmates they see, year after year, for us it's the Blue Angels or the same ship we see docked in several ports. You can only imagine what a thrill it was for me to see the Blue Angels up close and finally meet them.

When I was growing up, I didn't appreciate the life my military childhood offered me. I had to become an adult to realize that I indeed had a rich childhood filled with wonderful experiences. In that way, I'm a little envious of Piper. Everyday she realizes how lucky she truly is to be Piper Reed, Navy Brat.

Kimberly Willis Holt writes from her home in the Texas Panhandle. Her second book in the Piper series, Piper Reed The Great Gypsy debuts this week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well, Somebody Had to Say It! (Sharyn McCrumb)

Dear Middle School Teacher:

One of your cherubs e-mailed me a list of questions today via my web site. She says that, in order to learn how to do research, she has to do a report on me, and would I please answer the following questions which she has cut-pasted out of the electronic assignment sheet.

How many books have you written?
What are the titles ?
What are your books about?
Where did you grow up?
When did you start writing?
Where did you go to school?
Where do you get your ideas?

I am supposed to answer these questions, and she will copy-paste them back into her assignment page and hand them in.

So, Teacher, we need to talk about this assignment your student was given, which is probably featured in some state-issued teachers guide. The educators who devised it did not think it through, and they have stuck you with the unenviable task of trying to work with the silly notion that writers have lots of free time and endless patience with pointless exercises. (We became writers precisely because we lack those traits.)

The people who devised those lame questions for you have obviously never had to answer 100-plus e-mails a week, every week, while simultaneously attempting to research and write a book, compose articles for magazines, deliver lectures and programs at libraries and universities, and while trying to cope with families of their own. Do you know how often we writers get requests like the one from your student this week? And additional requests like: find me an agent, read my manuscript, tell my life story? -- Constantly.

So, dear teacher, I have two questions of my own:

1) How is this supposed to teach your student to do research?
2) To whom are you assigning hours of homework-- her or me?

I think teaching students to do research is a fine idea. More than half my job is doing research. I have to interview people for every book I write-- and the one thing you ought to teach people about research is this: you must come to the interview prepared.

It is insulting to ask an author the titles of his books, for example, when you could find the answer to that on a hundred web sites. Expecting the author to provide you with that list suggests that you would rather waste his time than spend five minutes doing your own preliminary research.

If the student does not know how to find the answers to these questions, shouldn’t you be teaching her that before you send her out to interrogate busy people?

The answer to all the above questions are already posted on my website. All the student would have to do is read through the “About the Author” and “Bibliography” sections, and she could get the answers to those basic questions on her own. She contacted me through the e-mail address on my web site- -apparently, the two seconds it took her to click on “contact the author” is all the time she spent on the web site.

If she had actually read some of the material on my web site, she would not only find the answers to these never-varying lame questions, she would also have enough background to ask more complex questions which are actually interesting, and to which I would give a thoughtful and personal answer.

I am something of an expert on research, myself. Once I had to interview a Daytona 500 winner for a magazine article I was writing. Did I ask him what his first race was ? How old he was when he started driving ? Where he was born ? Nope. Before we met, I spent a good while on the internet reading background material on him, previously published articles, etc., so that when I did talk to him, I knew enough about him not to insult him with questions that implied that he had nothing better to do than to recite his resume for a silly interviewer who didn't respect him enough to do her research.

I asked him about a Cherokee legend that mirrors his family situation in an uncanny way.
I asked him to explain a remark his brother made about him.
I asked him what he was feeling in that photo of himself at age twelve holding a racing trophy, the one where he is scowling, while his brother (with an identical trophy) simpers.

And I got a wonderful interview from him. We talked for four hours. I worked very hard to prepare for that interview.. Harder than he had to work to give me his time. In doing that research I learned who he is, and he was impressed that I cared enough about him to try to understand who he is. We are still friends.

If you want your students to benefit from this assignment-- rather than getting form letters which say: "Miss Brown wishes you the best of luck on your project, but regrets that she does not have time..." --- then make it easier on the people whose time you are requesting-- and make the process less tedious. If you don't, you may get nothing but form letters or canned replies.

I don't think it is at all unreasonable to ask the students to do basic research on an author before they contact one. They Google all the time on-line. They can do this. Make them read something by the author, even if it's only a short story. Then help them come up with a short list of questions that actually pertain to that specific author.

If nothing else, the students will get some idea of the value of research and preparation, and the joy of learning something new when they have put forth genuine effort to receive an answer.

In the long run, those lessons will serve them better than 15 canned answers from someone they know nothing about-- especially if they just cut-and-paste those answers into a research paper without even bothering to read them.

Think about it. And tell whoever thought up this exercise in futility that when one gives an assignment, it is the student who ought to do most of the work, not the grown-up.

All successful writers receive a variant of this stupid-question letter at least once a month. Usually this set of questions comes from a secondary school student, but, sadly, it often comes from a professional reporter, who really ought to know better than to toss off generic, unoriginal questions and think he has done his job.

Sooner or later, all writers subjected to this form of pestering resort to the same solution: we prepare a “Frequently Asked Questions” sheet and zap it back to the interviewer. So we have achieved prompt, efficient non-communication. The interviewer has put no thought or research into the assignment, and the authors fires back a To-Whom-It-May-Concern response, and nobody learned anything.

It has been years since a student or interviewer asked me an original question, or a question that indicated any familiarity with my work. If you are an interviewer, and I answer your generic question immediately with an articulate sound-bite, it means I have memorized the answer-- not a good sign. It means you bored me, and that I have a low regard for you as a scholar.

Do your research before you contact me. Ask me a non-general question that actually pertains to me or my work, and I promise to give you a real answer.

Feel free to spray paint these comments on the wall at the next NEA meeting or post it at the next conference of English teachers. On behalf of everyone from Lemony Snicket to Lee Smith, I thank you for anything you can do to make these project people use common sense in concocting projects that involve busy authors.

I hope this helps to give you some perspective on this project, from the victim's point of view. I have written you a 1000-word essay here, when I could have written more on my novel instead, but I'll store this letter in the computer for future use, until-- well, until tomorrow, probably, when someone else asks these same lame questions.

Sharyn McCrumb won a 2006 Library of Virginia Award and AWA Book of the Year for her novel St. Dale, which was featured at the National Festival of the Book. Named as a “Virginia Women of History” for 2008, she is known for her Appalachian Ballad novels, including the New-York Times best-seller She Walks These Hills. A film of The Rosewood Casket is in production.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Joshilyn Jackson: My Face Dot Com

My friend Renee calls ALL Social Networking sites “My Face” collectively, and she never never never goes on them. Me, I go on them a LOT. In my defense, it did not BEGIN as something voluntary. My publicist told me I HAD to get a MY SPACE page.

I said: But I have my own website and a blog with an RSS feed.
Publicist: But now EVERYONE is on My Space. You have to be on My Space, too.
Me: But noted performance artist Ze Frank says MY SPACE is full of ugly.
Publicist: You must become MY SPACE-Y or no one will be friends with you in real life.
Me: But Ze Frank says…
Publicist: JUST GO LOOK AT IT.

SO I went and looked at it. Then I called her back.

I said: All the pages are vomitously spangled. I do not think MY SPACE is where you find my Target Demographic.
Publicist: Yes, it is.
Me: So I write novels for… fifteen year old boys who want to get laid?
Publicist: That’s just another way of saying ALL fifteen year old boys. And you can also find 20 year old men and 30 year old women and 40 year olds of both sexes and 50 and 60 and 70 year old transgendered persons, all of whom want to get laid, and SOME of whom read. Now go get on MY SPACE.

SO! I got a My Space page. Granted, it was under duress, but I tried to be excited about it. I found a very nice girl named Nienke who made my page be yellow and moderately spangled so I wasn’t all boring and DEFAULTY. For a few weeks I checked My Space all day long, four times an hour, in any given hour when I was supposed to be working. It was VERY GOOD for creating some prime NOT WORKING hours. And I could argue that I was WORKING-ISH because my publicist said I had to be My Space-y.

I accepted absolutely ANYONE who wanted to be my friend, immediately. Want to be my friend? SUPER! CLICK! I would have accepted a friend invite from ATTILA the HUN, and in under a quarter of an hour, if only he had asked me in my first flush of My Space-y involvement. (THE ONLY friend request I ever turned down came from a young lady whose mother ought to yank her butt off My Space and get her into Catholic School, STAT, and whose profile photo was a close up of her dropping her jeans to proudly display the inadequate crotch of her lacey panties. Because, no. Just NO.)

But then I got bored of it. There was not that much to DO and I couldn’t figure out how to code in interesting things. Now I just show up once a month and accept all incoming friend requests without even doing a crotch screening check on the profile photos.

Then my publicist called me AGAIN.

Publicist: You have to get on Facebook.
Me: No, I don’t.
Publicist: Facebook is the new My Space.
Me: I don’t even like the OLD My Space.
Publicist: Just go LOOK at it.

SO I went and looked at it. Then I called her back.

Me: Every page looks boxy and this boy---well, a man now--- is on it, ALL THE WAY FROM MIDDLE SCHOOL, and he’s this boy I once made out with and he jammed his tongue so far back in my mouth that he hit my gag reflex and I puked on him. This guy is ON THERE and after you puke on a guy during make out session, you pretty much never want to see him again. Even virtually. Even 26 years later.
Publicist: HA! That’s funny. Now go get on Facebook.

So I got a Facebook page.
And OH! OH! But I LOVE me some Facebook.
It is boxy, true, and homogenous, true, but the boxy homogeneity (and this is important) PREVENTS PEOPLE FROM MAKING IT UGLY. And makes it REALLY easy to add fun bits.

The fun bits are these things called APPLICATIONS, but secretly? They are computer games. I LOVE computer games, and now I am playing them with all these people who are MUCH too cool to play a thing called computer games, but who have been fooled into doing it because Facebook calls them APPLICATIONS. See how that works? You can get pieces of flair and be a vampire or a vassal or make and decorate a castle or raise puppies or ponies or send inspirational messages in eggs that the recipient has to HATCH.

My favorite application is a virtual gardening game called LITTLE GREEN PATCH. LGP claims that using it HELPS SAVE THE RAINFOREST, which I absolutely do not believe. IT SAYS I have now saved 23 feet of rainforest by playing, and they have a whole sheet that explains ad revenue and percentages donated to green causes, and I STILL do not believe I am saving the rainforests. I believe I am saving the job of some low-level marketing guy. But whatever. He probably has a little baby to support and THE GAME IS FUN!

Basically, I send other people who play the game little virtual flowers for their virtual garden. They send me flowers back. Every day I get more from my friends and I mail more out. Some of the flowers are pretty and realistic, and I like them a LOT. My patch is full of them. My patch looks like THIS:

That Venus Fly Trap is VERY rare! I only have the one. I can also visit other people’s patches. I have little tools like a rake or birdseeds and I can use my tools to pull their weeds or lure off garden pests to earn pretend money. The pretend money lets me give pretend presents like pinwheels and stone garden gnomes and even signs, like this one, which PURPORTS to be celebrating Earth Day but looks to me more like what happens when a panda bear and a planet love each other very very much:

As you can see from the horrifying tomato-thing in the above picture, some of the plants have CREEPY NOSELESS BABY FACES. UGH! To me they look like what would happen if one of those Hallmark Precious Moments figurines mated with an escapee from an Anne Geddes photography shoot that happened to be its first cousin.

I had A LOT of those creepy baby face plants clotting up my little green patch until I discovered there is a MARKETPLACE and you can SELL the plants people give you for extra pretend money. I immediately sold off almost every Baby Head Human Plant Hybrid Creature in my garden. I sold them for meat, I assume. I am not sorry. Now I have four or five, just as curiosities, and I keep them at the bottom of my patch behind a 4 feet deep WALL of thorny roses. It’s like my Creepy Plant Ghetto:

After I care for other people’s gardens, I leave them obnoxious notes on their walls that are really requests for presents. I say things like, “I saved all your flowers from a deer. I am like...the BRUCE WILLIS of your patch. I wish I had some stone animals for my garden. You should buy me some in humble gratitude.” Then I got bored of saying what I had actually done and began going to patches I had not helped at all and lying. I recently posted to Lydia, “I JUST saved your plants form RABID MONKEYS and THE DEVIL using only the power of Mardi Gras beads. BUY ME SOMETHING.”

Lydia posted back, “Yeah, well, I saved your patch from a Sasquatch, using my rake and a pile of nuts. So, consider my works and be dismayed.” Stinky little object, ain’t she? BUT sometimes people actually DO buy me things. I have scored THREE presents now using this method! I hope to guilt someone into getting me a Panda-hump sign SOON.

SO now my publicist is satisfied, but my EDITOR wants to know when she might see a manuscript from me. Hmm. Soon, I tell her. Very soon. I just have to see who all from Washington High School is logged on. And get the neighbor’s dog out of my green patch. And I have to send my niece a SUPER POKE invite. And make a MUSICAL MONTAGE using FACEBOOK MONTAGE MAKER and my own photographs. And get a facebook CORKBOARD and and begin collecting pieces of flair to display on it. I am going to run finish the new book up. Oh yes, I am. ANY SECOND. I just have to save a FEW MORE FEET OF RAINFOREST first.

Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous kitten, three aging gerbils, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, is now in bookstores!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tired of Make-believe and Ready for REAL!

Ad Hudler
Next book out: "Man of the House" (Sept. 30)

I made a decision recently that has created uneasiness in my household and among my friends: I'm moving from writing fiction to nonfiction, specifically humorous essay-writing.

At first they were like, oh, yeah, Ad, that'll be fun … good for you. And then, after they noticed me taking photos and scribbling down things they'd said and done, they began to realize the horrible truth: I would be writing about THEM!

I’m expecting party invitations to quickly disappear. Maybe people will start editing themselves more carefully when speaking around me. Will I lose my drinking buddies? Will friends stop confiding in me? Wouldn’t you?

I started wondering what nonfiction writers do to protect the dignity of those people they write about. I think I found the answer in David Sedaris' newest book, in the author's note in the beginning. He says that the people and events in the essays are "realish."

Realish. Alrighty then. I'm guessing that realish means "not all of this is true." … maybe a LOT of it isn't true. You have to wonder, really. This means, of course that the writer can tweak a few details in addition to changing the names … and people won’t be able to recognize the person being written about. I do this often in my fiction. For example, I set "Househusband" in Rochester, New York even though most of it took place in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota because I knew too many people would recognize themselves. Honestly, you'd be surprised at how many people DON’T recognize themselves in a novel. Those filters we all use to preserve our vanity and dignity are quite remarkable.

Why the move to nonfiction? Honestly, it's because I was weary of being removed from the real, visceral world. As a fiction writer you simultaneously live two realities, the one inside your head and the one outside your head, or your daily life. It's very easy to obsess and focus on that internal world … and only you know the details of this world, which makes fiction-writing a very alienating experience.

I, a former journalist, found that I was shutting myself off from the real world because I was concentrating so much on that inner world, that novel in progress. And anything that didn't have a place in my novel got filtered out.

I had stopped reading non-fiction books because I was too obsessed with learning the craft of fiction-writing: plot and pacing and character and so forth. I limited my intake of magazines and newspapers and biographies. In all, I filtered out too much life … like some pinched, eyes-closed old man who had grown sour on the world.

But I'm back. And diggin' it. And to hone my nonfiction skills I've started blogging daily on my website. It's become a sketchbook of sorts for my essays. Having a blast with it.

Man, oh, man I am all over the place in that blog: Target vs. Wal-Mart shoppers; the Vietnamese couple who climbs my trees to harvest coconuts; yogurt poop (Hey, they ARE live and active cultures in there.); large-animal yard art; North Dakota adventures. I talk about pickup trucks and my daughter's first cuss word (learned from me, unfortunately), and the brassier tree spotted in my house. I’m having fun. The blog’s title is "Ad Libbing." Stop by for a visit:

My Husband's Sweethearts -- brand spanking new.

I tend to panic about publishing a book like so: loudly, wildly, with lots of hand gestures, audible moaning, fits of shallow breathing, palpitations, followed by paper-bag breathing, compulsive shopping, twitching, inappropriate humor...

Though this is not recommended.

Okay so here's the bit about the book:

Lucy left her husband six months ago after finding out he was cheating on her. When her overbearing, straightshooting mother calls to tell her that he's dying, Lucy decides to go back home. But once there, still angry, she confronts her husband. "Where are your sweethearts now? They were here for the good times, but I have to go through this alone?" He gives her his black book and tells her to call them up. She gets drunk and calls his bluff. Oddly enough, two of the women actually show up -- one who claims he saved her life and the other out of spite. Even more complicated is another sweetheart -- the grown son Artie never knew.

My Husband's Sweethearts is about scoundrels, overbearing mothers in velour sweat suits who are spring-loaded with advice, and the strong bonds that women forge in the most unlikely of times and places ... As Lucy's mother puts it: We love who we love even when we hate them. My Husband's Sweethearts seeks to prove that a family can be tied together by an unlikely series of knots.

AND here's the bit about the blog: The blog is about my life -- um, Julianna Baggott, that is -- because it's hard enough to live one life without having to make up another one.

Go there to read about:

* what I have in common with dead former president James Madison -- platform shoes?

* how my husband bought a skull and crossbones T-shirt to give his stay-at-home dad wardrobe a dark edge and, come to find out, the T-shirt was embedded with glitter -- a la Harley Davidson meets Barbie

* how we ate Spain this summer, the whole country

Here's some gratuitous blurbage:

"Asher creates an unconventional family-one brought together by a flawed but lovable man and kept together by a wounded but openhearted woman. As each character's individual story is revealed, the reader is further enveloped by this humorous yet touching tale."-- Booklist "... a parade of memorable women keep pages turning..."-- Publishers Weekly "Each character in this wry and beguiling book has a fresh take on love: how it tricks and blindsides us, makes us crazy, elated, sad; how we can't stop giving it; how it ennobles our lives. As Lucy and her husband's sweethearts reluctantly form a family as unlikely as it is beautiful, I found myself falling -- falling hard -- for every single one of them."-- Marisa Del Los Santos, New York Times Bestselling Author of Love Walked In and Belong to Me ".. a whip-smart, tender, and eccentric tale that chronicles all the ways forgiveness can come to us; don't miss this ride."-- Joshilyn Jackson, Bestselling Author of Gods of Alabama; Between, Georgia, and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

I'm off now to panic ... as every author must in their own way!
Posting soon: panic tips ...
Overview on Baggott:
For do-gooding:
For literary rocket-refeuling:
Kid books -- for the short set:

Friday, August 15, 2008

SEPTEMBER SONG by Carolyn Haines

The whirlwind summer is coming to a close. It’s been a busy time for me, with WISHBONES out on the bookshelves and the travel and speaking engagements that are part of book promotion.
This summer I’ve driven over 3,000 miles, visiting bookstores, libraries and doing research for the next book. While these travels are a lot of fun, they’re also a lot of work, as any writer will confess.

As I most recently drove around the Mississippi Delta, the setting for the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series, I never fail to learn new things about this land that I love so deeply. Although I’m from Lucedale, Mississippi, down in the Southeast corner of the state, I’ve been captivated by the Delta since my first visit. This rich region, with such a complicated past, has a special magic. It is the home of great wealth and great poverty. It’s the home of the state penitentiary, Parchman, and also the home of the blues. In fact the two are so intertwined it’s hard to determine what role the state prison played in the development of this music but for anyone interested, I’m reading a great book by a most extraordinary and interesting man, Alan Lomax. The book is THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. Like Sarah Booth, I feel the blues at a deep level.

In WISHBONES, Sarah Booth goes to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. The previous books have all been set in the fictional town of Zinnia, Mississippi, except for HALLOWED BONES, where Sarah Booth works a New Orleans case.

In talking with people who read my books, I was surprised at the depth of feeling about this new location—they wanted Sarah Booth back in Zinnia. Hollywood, while interesting on another level, held no appeal for them as a place for Sarah Booth to hang out. These were readers from all over the country, not just Southerners. But no matter where their roots were, they wanted Sarah Booth back home.

Driving across the state, I had a lot of time to think about the vital role that setting plays in my life, in my books and with my audience. Sarah Booth is part and parcel of Dahlia House, the Delta, and Mississippi. It is her roots and her love of the land and her heritage—even when those things are a ball and chain--that make her who she is.

On my travels, I started in the Black Prairie area of West Point and then moved on to the hills of Oxford and later to the flat land of the Delta and the broad flow of the Mississippi River. Because I’ve visited these stores and libraries over the years, I’ve made some strong friendships. These annual trips have been part of the fabric of my life, and as a writer, they’re invaluable. I reconnect to this magical place where life sometimes seems unchanged from the 1970s and sometimes even the 1940s.
Sarah Booth, much like this remarkable land, is haunted by her past. In the Bones books, Jitty is the entity that guides, prods and devils Sarah Booth. She links Sarah Booth to Dahlia House, her family, and the past. She is the keeper of Sarah Booth’s secrets.

In one leg of my journey, I drove from Greenville north to Helena, Arkansas, where I’d booked a room in a bed and breakfast. Several of my fabulous friends had met me in Greenwood and they’d traveled on to Helena while I went to Greenville for a luncheon signing at McCormick Book Inn.

As I drove to join my friends, I took Highway 1 at the suggestion of a gentleman in the bookstore. The road follows the Mississippi River, and often in the distance I could see the levee that was built to protect the rich Delta land from the flood waters. Most of the highways have been built up three feet or so—but not Highway 1. I drove through cotton fields so close I could almost reach out and touch the dark green foliage. The corn grew so tall that at times, I felt I was in a tunnel. And yes, I did think of CHILDREN OF THE CORN because my mind just works that way.

The road was almost deserted on this Saturday afternoon, and while I drove I listened to some blues. Most of the old juke joints are gone. The landscape is constantly changing, some for the better and some not. It was on Highway 1 that I found the agricultural feel of the Delta that spoke to me. This is what the road north to Memphis might have felt like in an earlier time.

Some Delta towns have seen an influx of money. Greenwood has the Viking cooking schools and the Alluvian Hotel; Clarksdale has Ground Zero blues club and renovation of the downtown. The crossroads of Highway 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, that place where Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to Satan for musical talent, is a busy intersection and not isolated country roads.

The modern world has caught up with the Delta, but there are moments when I as able to touch the past, even briefly, like the one in Rosedale, where I saw several musicians sitting on a front porch playing guitars and singing. That scene could have been 2008 or 1948.

Later that evening, my friends and I went to Clarksdale to the Sunflower Blues Festival. We lugged chairs and coolers and swatted mosquitoes as the different performers played. There is nothing better than good music and good friends.

The next morning I returned home, back to the farm life and an unfinished novel with a deadline approaching. School starts next week, and I’m excited by the prospect of seeing my returning students and meeting the new ones.

I teach fiction writing at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.
While my summer has been busy with traveling and writing and tending the animals, one of my students, Jeannie Holmes, has also had a roller coaster summer. She sold her first novel, CRIMSON SWAN, in a two-book deal to Random House. Her new career is just beginning as she concludes her masters degree this December.

The seasons change. New opportunities come, and part of the past is left behind. But sometimes, on a rare drive across a magical part of Mississippi, the past can be found again, if just for a moment.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Congratulations to Amy MacKinnon by Kristy Kiernan

I'll be doing a blog post about the publication of my second novel, Matters of Faith, soon. In the meanwhile, I want to introduce you to Amy MacKinnon, an author who's been working the dream for a long time, and whose debut novel, Tethered, was just released on Tuesday.

I was going to write my own, long, fabulously complimentary post about Amy, but then I read a post by Hannah at The Writers' Group (a group blog detailing the journey of a writing group made up of Amy, Hannah Roveto, Lynne Griffin, and Lisa Marnell), and it just so perfectly captured the way I think of Amy that I asked Hannah's permission to cross-post it here.

Without further ado:

All for One

By Hannah Roveto

Amy MacKinnon spoke last night at her release party/first appearance/first reading of Tethered at Buttonwood Books. Friends from different points in her life were present: family, childhood, high school, college, neighborhood, and yes, from her literary career; many more who weren't able to be there in person were there in spirit. All the communities that have supported Amy through the years -- and that she has supported in turn -- were one as she stood alone, facing us.

Amy notes in her acknowledgments that writing is a solitary life, but that there are people who support a writer along the way without whom the final product would not exist. In her case, I don't believe that to be true, not completely.

Amy MacKinnon is fierce. She is gracious and intelligent and modest and devoted. And a force with which to be reckoned. Amy decides to do something and it happens. Not only that, but it happens the right way, because she will not not accept anything less. She asks questions, she involves people and makes them care, she finds out what is needed and pushes each venture forward. She makes people believe. Ask any of the people who were there last night.

Betsey Detwiler, owner of Buttonwood Books, told the crowd what a friend Amy has been to the bookstore -- a wonderful, welcoming, independent bookstore -- as did the store's events magician Totsie McGonagle. Authors -- teachers, cheerleaders, friends -- Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan of Jungle Red Writers drove down from Boston to share in the celebration. And as the crowd mingled later, a college friend spoke about how the roommmates in their house knew one of them would be famous some day -- and looking at Amy, she said not only is one on the way, but maybe more of them would still. Inspired, no doubt, by Amy.

Everyone there to see Amy at last in the full spotlight savored the moment when she stood alone before us. She believed she had a story to tell and found a way to tell it. She fought her way through a first chapter for six months. She found time in a crazy-busy life to get it all down, finish it, find an agent, revise it, work with a publisher, and now, to launch it into the world. The hard work is the part that is solitary, and Amy makes that happen. She has, she does, she will. Period. Everyone who knows Amy knows this moment, and every moment that is going to follow, is richly deserved.

Amy MacKinnon is fierce. She is many things to many people, and now she is a published author with a career ahead of her that will be long and sweet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Brother The Comic

Since we’re on the subject of family this week, I’d like to give a big hats off to my little brother, the comic Ryan Dalton, who just rocked his television debut on Comedy Central’s Live in Gotham City earlier this summer.

What he’s up to makes me think about talent, and how far that gets you in the business (answer: not far, or very far, depending on whom you meet).

Here’s the message I sent out about my brother’s resounding TV victory:

It’s true—they not only let him out of his special room, they taped it. My brother, comic extraordinaire Ryan Dalton, is making his television debut FRIDAY 6.27.08 on Comedy Central at 10 pm EST.

Ryan’s stand up has led him to repeat performances in the country’s best comedy clubs. He was recently a featured comic on MySpace and is a regular drop-in guest on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom morning radio show. He’s posted in-depth, sensitive clips from his adventures on the road with fellow comic Steve Byrne on YouTube and was catapulted to international fame when his video of a gorilla picking his nose was bought up by an Australian production company.

Ryan hated to leave his satisfying past careers in food service, retail, and car sales for the world of stand up. But comedy needed him, so he has braved the late nights, booze and fawning crowds for our benefit. Please show your support for his courage by tuning in …

Now I’ll warn those of you who like your humor clean, that my bro is not your man. His humor isn’t all dirty though, and it isn’t mean-dirty. It’s exuberantly dirty. Yes, exuberantly! And also smart, funny, and dead on. That’s what we want from our comics, right?

He’s also one of the most courageous people I know. Because he’s not only a writer, he’s a writer who has to perform his work, no notes, in front of mostly drunk and occasionally rough-tempered crowds.

And you thought Thursday night at the B&N was bruising?

The other thing about the work he does is that unless he’s in front of the aforementioned audience, he isn’t getting paid. The fact that he’s getting paid at all is a feat.

Now the rest of us writers know that even if we don’t show up anywhere for months on end (and most of us would probably prefer not to), we can still work and get paid. We can use our writerly skills as teachers, journalists, ad copy hacks, what have you, and many of us do. Hell, we might even sell a book! And all of that could happen without us having to whip out the old black turtleneck for a reading. In short, we can continue to be writers, even if much of the paid work isn’t our creative work.

But comics have to perform to be comics. They can be television writers, but that happens after you’ve made a name for yourself being – you got it – a comic. And there’s this huge lu-lu of a wage gap. Either you’re doing free stage time before the monkey show, or like my brother you’re just starting to make a name for yourself, getting some good gigs and some national media, or you’ve got your own show.

Daunting, daunting odds.

Now, the thing about talent. When I saw my brother’s first video tape nearly 10 years ago, it was playing in front of a roomful of my friends, who ranged in age from mid twenties to forties, and I was terrified. What if he sucked? But I guess compared to facing the college bar audiences he started in front of, my friends were pretty tame.

He wasn’t worried, and I tried not to be. And then I realized he was terrific. Natural talent. Great timing, great material.

I remember thinking at the time that there was no question of his ability. The only questions were would he stick with it and keep growing? And would he meet the people who could make him successful?

Yes to the first, clearly. And he’s on his way with the second.

I’m hoping once he makes it he’ll string me along.

Quinn Dalton is the author of a novel, High Strung, and two story collections, Bulletproof Girl and Stories from the Afterlife.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Grandparents Part II

-- Lynn York

I loved Michael Morris’ blog entry yesterday about his grandmother. And now, I can’t resist adding a few words here about my own grandmother. Though she died when I was only ten, I have never forgotten how warm and safe and beautiful I would feel in her presence. She would look at me as though I was the best thing the world ever made. She would dress me up and take me downtown to the drugstore for a cherry coke, just to show me off. Though she’s been gone for over forty years now, I can still feel her gaze on me.

In my family, we are not big on saving heirlooms, so we don’t have many of my Grandmother Evelyn’s things. I do have her Queen Anne dining room furniture. We have a tiny, filmy flapper-era dress that she wore to go out dancing. For my wedding, I wanted to carry something of hers down the aisle. My mother dug up one of her embroidered handkerchiefs to tuck into the sleeve of my dress. I was all set, but on the big day, in the last minute flurry at the church, we couldn’t put our hands on that handkerchief. That was probably the shakiest moment of the day. Everyone just stopped and looked at me for a minute to see if I was going to delay the ceremony over this sentimental detail —or worse, balk entirely. I did consider it. In the end, though, my grandmother’s practical voice whispered in my ear: “Don’t be silly. Get the show on the road.” This seemed like good advice at the time.

My grandmother turns up everywhere in my writing. Though I didn’t do it consciously, she shares many traits with Wilma Mabry, a central character in both of my novels. And I use her repressed, practical and passionate view of the world as a lens for much of my work. In this way, I am just like many of the undergraduates who will head back to creative writing classes in a few weeks. It is a well-known fact that the dying or dead grandmother is just about the most common character “created” by young fiction writers. I am often tempted to give my students a list of subjects that they may not write about. Dead grandmothers would top the list, but I would also include: first time sexual encounters, nasty breakups, and stories centering on tattoos.

Of course, I won’t give my students this list. In fact, I am thinking that I may actually assign them to write about one of these topics. There is a reason that all of us reach out to these subjects. We write, and we write most passionately, about loss. For many of us, the loss of a grandparent is a sad introduction to a lifetime of losses. We lose our virginity, our pets, our lovers, our nice pristine skin. Writing is a way to communicate these losses—to recreate, restore what is gone.

I’m going to try to remember that this year when I read my students’ stories, and my own.

Lynn York is the author of The Piano Teacher (2004) and The Sweet Life (2007). She lives in Carrboro, NC. Her website is

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hail To The Grandparents

       By Michael Morris
The night he secured the Democratic nomination for president, Senator Barack Obama declared that all he had become was due to one person – his grandmother. At that moment I felt a kinship with this man. It was not a connection based on politics but rather one based on matters of the heart. Like Senator Obama, I know first hand the lasting impact of grandparents.

When my mother and I fled an abusive household, we found refuge in the home of my mother’s parents. While my mother went to vocational school to learn a trade so that she could support us, my grandmother went to work with me. Every afternoon after lunch, my grandmother would sit with me and ask me to list out all of the people in my life who loved me. If I ever missed the name of a cousin or aunt, she would stop me, add the names and ask me to continue. Sitting on her sofa, reclining against the soft fold of her arm and smelling the fried chicken that still clung to her blouse, I would recite my list and through time, I came to understand that of all the people in my life, no one would ever love me the way that this woman did. My grandmother had a six-grade education but as I come to the fourth decade of my life, I still count her as the wisest person I’ve ever known. Her small cinder block home was a sanctuary of sorts where wisdom and love were dispensed in equal measure but yet she never forced on anyone.

For years, I thought the relationship I had with my grandmother was unique and something most people could not relate to or understand. And yet, through the years I have encountered others not like Senator Obama who have known special relationships with their grandparents – relationships that fostered life changes and often provided a detour to destructive journeys. The stories belong to young children and senior adults alike, who at the mere topic of their grandparents can be reduced to tears. One such story belongs to a ten year old boy I met in a doctor’s office. Disease had made him twice the size of his age. As he sat next to his grandmother waiting to be called back to see the doctor, we continuously made eye contact. After several smiles were exchanged I made a comment about the logo on his t-shirt and then chatted with his grandmother. I shared how seeing the two of them together brought back memories of the times when my grandmother would accompany me to the doctor. Never looking up, the boy pulled at a thread of his shorts and said, “Yeah, I like being my grandma. Being with her is the one place where I feel good about myself.”

And then there’s the eighty-seven year old woman I met at a dinner party. At the host’s urging the woman agreed to read from a memory journal she’d been keeping of growing up in a Mississippi town that no longer existed. She had taken great care in illustrating the gold leafed pages and held the book up to show a drawing of a coal powered train her grandfather had conducted. A hush fell over the room as she read about being a girl and upon hearing the whistle of the evening train, running through the town square to meet the grandfather who had helped to raise her. Although I was moved by her lyrical writing and the sense of history, more than anything I was struck at how this woman – now a great-grandmother- talked about the joy she felt turning the corner of the train depot and finding her grandfather climbing down from the train to hug her. “We had a bond, he and I,” she said, her voice still breaking with emotion fifty years after his death. With tears in her eyes, she looked up at the dinner guests, shook her head and said, “And I can’t wait to hug him again.”

Like the Kansas woman who raised Senator Obama there are 2.5 million other grandparents just like her, struggling to raise their grandchildren, often at great physical and financial sacrifice. I tip my hat to them and to Senator Obama’s grandmother for making an investment that counts. President Carter made it official in 1978 that grandparents are worth celebrating and signed a proclamation declaring September 7 as Grandparent’s Day. Even though Hallmark doesn’t take out television ads to push cards for this little known holiday, I like many others will take a moment to think of the contributions my grandmother made on my life and somewhere on the campaign trail, I bet Sentor Obama will be thinking of his grandmother too. God bless grandparents.

Michael Morris is the author of A Place Called Wiregrass, Live Like You Were Dying and Slow Way Home – a novel about a young boy being raised by his grandparents.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guest Blog

Origins of The Bible Salesman

By Clyde Edgerton

William Gay and Tom Franklin got in touch with me and asked me to contribute a short story for an anthology they were putting together. The anthology would be a tribute to Flannery O’Connor. I immediately thought of two of my favorite characters in O’Connor’s fiction—the Bible salesman from “Good Country People,” and The Misfit from “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I didn’t want to use those same characters in my story of course but I knew I wanted a Bible salesman and a criminal in my narrative--and I wanted the time to be around 1950. I can remember the year 1950 (I turned six that year) and it seemed like an appropriate and relatively simple time to use. I’d let my criminal meet O’Connor’s Misfit and I’d let the Bible salesman meet her Bible salesman.

I made my criminal a car thief pretending to belong to the FBI, and my Bible salesman—a young man just out on the road away from home for the first time. Before I started the story I thought up something I figured would be fun and interesting: The Bible salesman would order free Bibles and razor out the page that showed their origin, and then he’d sell them. That decision immediately colored his character. He’d be naughty. But my criminal would be evil. This arrangement worked okay in the short story.

Because I liked the characters I decided to make a book with them playing the leads. But before long, I realized that to create suspense and tension I’d need the Bible salesman to be more innocent that he’d been in the short story, so I made him into somebody quite different from the short story Bible salesman. I also realized that I could indulge myself in a kind of study of the Bible—why not let this young Bible salesman start reading the Bible on his own (like Wesley Benfield in Killer Diller) and see how he might handle his belief that every word was written down by God. Might he have problems? His ruminations, etc., could be a subplot. And he could meet an interesting young woman out in the country at a fruit stand. Also, my uncle had been killed in a freak accident in 1927. I had an old yellow newspaper clipping detailing that event. I could use some details of that accident in the story. I could put in a tale I’d heard about bumper stickers, and there was that movie screen set up in a beach surf showing silent movies. I could figure out a way to use that. I could put in talking cats, and a new Chrysler. I was off.